Familiar plotting and a cliche-filled screenplay ruin an interesting premise. For a second (after the glitzy opening) one hopes that The High Note would overcome and surpass traditional rom-com tropes, but they are soon proven wrong. The glitz and glamour could be perceived as a cover, it attempts to hide a dreary script and the lack of chemistry between its leads. Perhaps the glitz of it all will allow audiences to overlook its flaws and have a good time, but to others it will lurch as it drag its way towards the final moments.
Singing legend Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross) is on a career path leading to nowhere, while her assistant Maggie (Dakota Johnson) has ideas of how to reinvigorate her career. Namely, to record new songs. Currently, Grace is on a constant cycle – touring the same old songs over and over. This is due to her money-hungry manager (Ice Cube) and his insistence on a Vegas residency and the fact that no one wants to hear new songs. Despite the circumstances, Maggie continues down her music-obsessed path leading her to meet a talented singer, David (Kelvin Harrison Jr), who she manages.
That glimmer of hope mentioned was in reference to the musical obsession of Johnson’s Maggie who name-drops many of music’s greats; Carole King, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin among others. Undoubtedly, the musical knowledge of writer Flora Greeson and director Nisha Ganatra is impressive, but that can not save the film from its flaws. In the end, The High Note hits a few right notes but fails to break free of studio-bound archetypes.
There is something far more interesting buried within its story basis, yet The High Note chooses to go down the easy route – avoiding all harsh realities. A Star Is Born is a real-world musical that shares similarities to this in story, yet it fails to capture the sincerity and harshness that both Bradley Cooper (2018 version) and George Cukor (1954 version) captured. It may not be good to draw comparisons, but due to the narrative and story being so similar – this can be warranted.
Although the cast lack chemistry together, that is not to say they are not good individually. Dakota Johnson holds the film together, she does what she can. 2018 was a great year for Johnson with Suspiria and Bad Times At The El Royale. They really turned around perceptions, proving that she is a really great actor. Additionally, Tracee Ellis Ross brings all she has got. Though like Johnson, she is not given much to play and shine with. Kelvin Harrison Jr. continues to be impressive and one to look out for, while Ice Cube is a welcomed comedic presence as usual. The performances are not to blame.
The High Note ends up hitting a nearly consistent low note, which ultimately comes down to a mostly lifeless formulaic structure. The glimmers of good are far outweighed. It is a comedy without comedy and a drama without realness, what starts off fine ends up sounding and looking like a broken note on a piano.